Glossary of terms used on this site

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Term Definition
positive discrimination

an approach to redressing inequalities of various sorts where extra support or favourable treatment is afforded to disadvantaged groups (see affirmative action).

positive liberty

a term from the work of Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) which refers to the capacity to exercise choice and agency by virtue of having the power and resources to do so. It would normally involve some kind of external intervention to enable this to happen: for example, becoming literate or numerate increases one's capacity to act as one wishes, as does the acquisition of money or status. Negative liberty, on the other hand, merely means the absence of external restraint but this type of freedom may only be theoretical if one does not have the resources or ability to act as one would desire.


a philosophical position which holds that all knowledge including that of the social sciences is what can be obtained using scientific methods - observation and experiment. It is thus linked to empiricism and opposed to metaphysics religion and idealism. It has been criticised as being too narrow in scope and in presenting a simplistic view of factual knowledge (see postpositivism).


not a single theory but rather a range of reactions to modernism and its assumptions. It rejects the idea of an all-embracing grand narrative a single theory or principle that explains all human endeavour. It doubts the objectivity of science for example is sceptical of anything thought of as foundational essential or necessary instead preferring to accept a variety of perspectives none of which can be privileged. In the arts the term refers more to an eclectic approach which rejects traditional forms and disciplines.


a reaction to positivism holding instead that knowledge is provisional and subject to revision and to perspective. It holds that objectivity is questionable but that knowledge is still possible not just in scientific terms but in hermeneutic critical moral and other forms particularly in the social sciences.


related to postmodernism but focused on rejecting the idea that social systems have fixed underlying structures that determine their meaning. In literature it stresses that texts have multiple meanings and ways of being understood and so interpretation can never be definitive. In social theory it is particularly focused on how power relations are immanent in our constructions of the world and the way in which power shapes social practices and systems.


ability which has not yet emerged or been demonstrated but is assumed to be within an individual's capability. It is a term used widely in education but is extremely difficult to ascertain or identify in any demonstrable way as it is inevitably based on perceptions which may be misplaced or erroneous (see underachievement).


controlling influence a key concept in public policy management and government.


a term for what is actually done. In education it normally refers to the actual work and behaviours of professionals. Teaching as a practice therefore refers to the ways in which it is typically conducted (see praxis).


a philosophical approach which determines the value of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application. More generally it refers to any approach which seeks workable solutions rather than holding fast to any unbending position or beliefs.


encouragement or commendation. It is seen as a key motivational factor but its application needs to be managed carefully for that to be maximised (see reinforcement rewards)


a term dating back to Aristotle but now more commonly associated with Marxist or radical thinking such as that of Freire who sees it as for the educator   reflective action united with critical theorising.


a statement about what will be observed or will take place prior to the event. Its effects are multi-faceted inaccurate or ill-judged predictions in educational contexts can have serious negative consequences (see self-fulfilling prophecy Pygmalion effect halo effect)


a preconceived opinion or belief unsupported by evidence. The opinion may prove to be factually correct or incorrect but the use of the word today tends to be associated with groundless discrimination and bias


in logic a statement in an argument from which the conclusion is drawn (see deduction syllogism) more generally any assertion or presupposition on which an argument or theory is based.

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